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The Talos Principle Review - The Puzzle of Existence

Carly Smith | 10 Dec 2014 13:00
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the talos principle - screen 4

Puzzles branch off into rooms from central hubs and are largely confined to the specific room, but The Talos Principle also isn't afraid to break the rules, though I didn't catch on for quite a while. In addition to sigils, stars unlock a different door, but they are often in hard to reach places or impossible to see. Thinking literally outside of the box rewards players with gold stars. There's nothing to imply in the game that this is possible as items cannot be carried through the entryways from puzzles to the hub. While discovering new ideas for yourself is a theme, it's hard to know when your creative experiments are what the game wants you to do or if you're just wasting time.

QR codes on the walls indicate there are others here. We question why we must solve the puzzles, but Elohim continues to encourage or chide me. I must get back to the sigils. He affectionately calls me a child, and I remember all the times I asked why solving word problems mattered at all just to have adults remind me that I should do as I'm told. It feels right for this game, having to balance obedience and defiance.

There's an overlap between humans and machines, for humans have created machines, and many of our problem solving skills are akin to machines. The main difference is that a machine does what a person tells it to. Your computer isn't going to solve a complicated problem for you unless you tell it to do so. As the Serpent questioned the character on what makes a human human and a machine a machine, questioning why I bother to solve Elohim's puzzles (to which I have no answer other than I have to in order to progress in the game), I wonder if maybe we're all "part machine" for our problem-solving skills - or maybe, actually, that's why we're able to make machines to do tasks for us. Free will is a bit hard to cover in games as we have to follow already established rules to make progress, and choosing not to participate means not getting anywhere in the game. I don't think The Talos Principle is able to jump that hurdle, but it provides food for thought at least.

The Talos Principle could be a frustrating game; for the most part, it's a challenging but pleasing experience. Signs indicate which sigils are in an area, as well as which ones are still up for grabs, so there's no confusion over where you should go. Calming music promotes a sense of patience. Undercutting the serenity of Elohim's garden is the tower, which looks much less inviting than the areas Elohim has set up. But what's more human than curiosity of the unknown?

Despite my occasional frustration of being unable to find the solutions to puzzles, it wasn't until the climax of the game that the puzzle solving got out of hand. Whereas I felt free to take my time and experiment new ideas in the earlier puzzles, the big final puzzle left me screaming in frustration due to time limits and a harsh penalty of restarting the long puzzle from the very beginning when I got stuck. What was leading to a big revelation was dented by systems that now suddenly penalized me for lengthy trial and error.

Some of the archives left for players to find are also unnecessary. Some are silly chat logs that add nothing to the story, but for the most part the emails and book passages discuss existence and humanity. "The world doesn't come with a manual," one email read. "You gotta figure it out for yourself."

The Talos Principle asks players to reexamine their preconceived notions of sentience and humanity, but I was never properly convinced of how this artificial intelligence could behave in a manner unlike a machine except for the fact that I, an emotional and by all means illogical human, was playing the character. Nonetheless, I was also never really convinced by some philosophical discussions in school, but they are always fun to contemplate.

Bottom line: The feeling of accomplishment from solving The Talos Principle's puzzles is almost like a high, and the game does a mostly great job of guiding you in the beginning and then letting you figure things out for yourself. Some hiccups near the end drastically change the pace of problem solving for the worse, but it's a game that will seriously challenge you to think and to reason.

Recommendation: The Talos Principle is a game for people who love solving puzzles and discussing philosophy. Enjoy games like Portal but want a more serious game? This game is one to check out.

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